Insights from the Study Cave: Lessons of Light and Dark

In the midst of the last few week of Chinese Medicine school. The proverbial swim across a large body of water is coming to an end. Land is in sight. This time is a threshold between Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine student and stepping out into the world as a Practitioner of Integrative/Oriental Medicine. Each day flows between simultaneous forward movement and daydreaming and reflection of what has been learned and accomplished over the past four years.

Beyond studying the vast body of information that Traditional Chinese Medicine is, this has been the most prolific time of my life for expansion in self-awareness and self-acceptance. Under the incessant stress of a graduate school education, balancing work and studies, the financial details of obtaining a medical degree in our country, this is a perfect storm to rip the veils off one's persona. With that comes revelation, beautiful and horrifying revelation. Here is a list of 10 important lessons gleaned through the AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine journey. 

I’ll note these lessons aren’t factored into Learning Objectives on class syllabi nor clinical evaluations. These lessons settled in slowly and insidiously. They have seeped in during moments of exhaustion. They have spun in from the periphery in split second moments between running from one thing to the next. They have dropped down from the sky when I’ve caught myself lost in a thought story or fear. They have lifted with the sun, surprising me in the morning as I realize my first thoughts are filled with gratitude for the opportunity to go to class or clinic…yet again, even after a number of years. Chinese Medicine is the study of change, impermanence, and in those split second moments when I’ve been able to open to a greater awareness, there is a chance to reflect on the changes, and life-giving lessons, that have taken root during this program.

  1. Take the risk

    A dear friend from outside the world of TCM school recently saw me in a moment of panic and exhaustion that easily sets in as the experience comes to a close. He said that he finally was able to energetically sense what I am going through. He compared it to what it must feel like to be on a slack line at 100 feet up in the air. I added “and then to have made a very large bet that you will make it across.” We laughed, but it’s true. This has been a risk. Time, energy, resources. This has taught me the importance of WILLINGNESS. To show-up, to keep showing up, for years, to take the risks, to put yourself out there, to be all-in. On the day to day the tasks may seem small and subtle, but the repetition of meeting them and the willingness to risk again and again is a testament in the end. Life has so many unknowns, I don’t want to be afraid, I’d rather be willing. (Reference #5, #7)

  2. Trust the process

    Another dear friend taught me this one. He looked at me one day, years before TCM school, and gently reminded me to “trust the process.” This piece of advice has been imperative to this education. However, it’s only upon reflection that I can see the greater process at hand though it’s only a small fraction of the BIG-LIFE process at hand. The one I can’t see, but I can sense. TCM school has been the living lab to this hypothesis. With so many twists and turns and hoops and loops there is a process. Something is being worked out. Yes, even in the mundane details, especially in the mundane details. There is a growth process. Trust it. (Reference #1, #6, #8)

  3. Tend the garden, so all are nourished

    For me, this is a heart-centered medicine. This program, simultaneously, is demanding and challenging. Opposite forces at work which has taught me to practice holding both my health and the health of my patients simultaneously. A different dear friend helped me see the garden analogy and I have carried it in my back pocket throughout this process. To stand as witness to a patient requires presence and fortitude. Requires my proverbial roots to be fed. Requires I get plenty of sunshine to grow. (Reference #9)

  4. Do the best you can*

    There were days when I was tired, distracted, grumpy or annoyed. Days I didn’t want to study for another test, or drive to North clinic for another shift. The thing is though, thankfully, if something is missed in TCM school it will have to be made-up. (And it may cost you an additional fee as well.) So giddy-up kid and suck it up. Do it and do it well. Show-up. The beauty of a years-long program is it gives me the opportunity to reflect on instances when I’ve done less that I know I’m capable of versus instances of real effort. In reflection, doing my best work brings the best out of me and ultimately feeds me. In the field of care and helping others a fed energetic system that is calm and confident is a presence that can hold a truly healing space for another. (Reference #1, #3, #9)

    *Edited: TCM school is a push, it requires a lot (physically, mentally, monetarily) and sometimes the best you can do will disappoint you, and realistically others. This process has helped me forgive myself, be honest about my role and take responsibility, and forgive myself again. Such a humbling experience. It’s not about being perfect, but about balance. There will be times in my life where corners will be cut, people will not agree or be happy about the decision, but that doesn’t have to dictate self-worth. The work is being open to feedback and being solid in the core at the same time. 

  5. Mindset is everything

    I’m not really sure how this happened but my mindset and internal dialogue have metamorphosed while being in TCM school. A complete alchemy of inner thoughts. New neural networks have been laid and the train has jumped tracks. The nature of my thoughts these days, yes still dance in the realm of catastrophe at times, but largely reside in the realm of Possibility. Eventually, it just clicked. I can continue to complain, but after complaining about something for a number of years I got tired of hearing myself. Yes, grad school is hard. Yes, TCM school is demanding. And, it’s also incredibly life-giving and interesting if I remember it that way. (Reference #1, #7, #8, #10)

  6. Honor inspiration and expression*

    This phrase landed in my lap a number of years ago. The premise is something I needed to study. Chinese Medicine is an intuitive art. This has been a profound practice in honoring my inspirations, honoring the way I’m moved to walk through the world, and then to learn to walk and talk it. Again, the beauty of this process being a number of years is that I have been able to practice feeling the call, honoring the challenges and expressing what wants to come forth. (Reference #1, #2, #4)

    *Edited: As I embark on the journey of finding the next place to land “following inspiration” rings so loudly in my ears. A friend advised me to make relationships with people who inspire me. Such simple advice, and yet, it landed in my heart with more gravity than ever. Yes, follow the inspiration. My heart calls for that inspiration. And when I find it, reach out to it from the limb. Express the inspiration. Be brave.

  7. Don’t take it personally (Reference #10)

  8. Yet, take it personally

    It’s not about me and it’s totally about me. It’s you, me, all. So much to be said about this, but what I’ve noticed is the delicate dance between widening the lens to focus on the bigger lessons, the deeper messages and also taking the time to give recognition for the small part I play in it. The little human self that shows up and does the paperwork, sets-up the clean fields, follows the rules, gets checklists signed, turns in assignments, sits in traffic on the freeway, and all for a greater purpose that may be too big for my little human mind to comprehend. (Reference #2)

  9. Be my own best friend

    After making it through an life changing and intense endeavor the questions that remain include, do I have my own back? How do I want to feel? How well can I care for myself? Can I walk my talk? How about my honesty, integrity? What do I sense in my own energetic system? Can I just notice, lovingly, honestly, compassionately? The inner-friend keeps me accountable. I know I must schedule time to swim laps at Deep Eddy to soothe and soften my nervous system or I won’t be an open space-holder for someone else. Thankfully, the friendship I have built through repeatedly showing-up to what I find life-giving has helped keep me afloat in this process. I haven’t always been this way. Self-betrayal was part of my walk in the past, and sure it still surfaces from time to time. Yet, I know now the repercussion of self-betrayal blocks me from using my energy for good. It has taken time to realign with what is life-giving in order to see the energy this builds in the system. (Reference #3, #4)

  10. Practice an attitude of gratitude

    I was given a practice from a dear friend (yes, another! I’m quite grateful) that encompasses gratitude and visioning. It begins by speaking gratitude (which I’ll spare the details of what that actually looks like, but it feels like magic) and in that alignment with gratitude one’s whole energy can shift to receptivity and openness. I have loved practicing this while studying healing because it helps to take me from stress and an abundance of mental energy to openness with a patient. It feels like it wipes the slate clean. It recharges my batteries when they are low. I truly believe it’s cleansing. What has been awesome is to watch this process do it’s work while simultaneously in the most stressful time in my life. I by no means am stress-free, and I have my moments of breakdown, yet this is a profound tool. It’s beyond affirmations. It’s a recognition that all is unfolding perfectly and I can trust that and be grateful for the opportunity to live it. (Reference #1, #2)

On The Road

The Bow and Arrow are Drawn